Surviving drought with new farming techniques

Amun Osman |

“Working on the farm reminds me of my father. I used to help him and he taught me everything I know,” says Bishara Abdi, a 74-year-old farmer in Bonkay village in south-central Somalia.

“Today I am teaching my grandson, so that the future generation can continue to learn.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) is helping Abdi and her grandson to improve their crop yields during times of drought in the country. Like most communities in this region, Bonkay has been hit hard.

Fleeing drought and hunger

Settlements near the village are filled with flimsy shelters for families having fled drought and hunger from other communities in Somalia. There has been little rain during three consecutive rainy seasons from 2016 to 2017.

In 2014, NRC began a farm-based livelihood project in Bonkay, which is home to an agro-pastoral community that has worked on farms for generations producing sorghum and maize. The project is part of the Building Resilient Communities in Somalia (BRCiS) initiative, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and aims to promote modern farming techniques by introducing innovations such as cost effective solar power systems for irrigation.

Fifty farmers participate in the project, working on one acre each and producing food for consumption and sale. Through the project, the farmers receive trainings on sustainable farming practices and are provided with tools, seeds and tractor ploughs. In addition, the project has introduced a drip irrigation system driven by a solar powered borehole.

Learning new skills after 65 years of farming

Abdi has been a farmer for 65 years, since she was just nine years old. While many women are retired at her age, she continues to work the farm herself. Abdi has survived Somalia’s civil war and several droughts and famines. Not once did she abandon her ancestral home, holding steadfast against the urge to flee for greener pastures.

In recent years, Abdi has benefitted from the BRCiS projects, using them to teach her grandson the agricultural techniques of his forefathers. She is also learning new techniques, as NRC provides the community with modern agricultural skills that allow for less labour and more productivity.

“I did not know about many of the new technologies, for instance: the drip irrigation. We had never seen anything like it. It was so simple and we got the hang of it quickly,” says Abdi. “I wish we had these tools when I was younger, but now I hope my grandchildren will benefit.”

Remembering the 2011 famine

Abdi recalls the 2011 famine when conditions here were worse: “We had to leave our farms and move further into town. There was no water and the humanitarian agencies would not come this far. Every day we would walk the six kilometres from Baidoa town to Bonkay just to work on our farms. It was very difficult.”

The 2011 famine caused overwhelming displacement and many of the families that fled never returned home. This had a devastating impact on several communities’ food and land tenure security in the region, as very few people were left to work in the agricultural belt of Somalia. Not enough labourers were present ahead of the next harvest.

Fewer people leaving

Thanks to the BRCiS project, fewer people are leaving.

“This time we did not leave our homes. We were closer to our crops and for the first time we were able to weather the drought,” explains Abdi. “We even went as far as hosting our extended families who had been displaced by the drought.”

The solar panel power irrigation system has given the community a sense of security against the drought.

“The water saved us, we were even able to share it with displaced families,” says Abdi. “Although our community does not have a lot, we share what little we have.”.

Abdi has always taken pride in working on the land.

“I have spent my whole life here. Without projects that make it possible for us to stay, I fear that my grandchildren will abandon the farms,” she says.